YCC wants to expand Credit/D/Fail

If the Yale College Council has its way, the science gut may be an endangered species.

The YCC is beginning to discuss and gauge student opinion about a possible policy change that would allow students to fulfill their distributional requirements with classes taken Credit/D/Fail. YCC President Jon Wu ’11 said the council is currently in talks with administrators, including Yale College Dean Mary Miller, but the council has not taken any concrete action. If the results of the council’s recent policy survey, distributed by e-mail Monday, demonstrate enough student interest, he said, the YCC may collect further data to present to an academic committee next year.

Wu said the initiative mostly targets non-science majors hoping to fulfill science and quantitative reasoning requirements by taking those courses Credit/D/Fail.

Students who might otherwise try upper-level math and science courses are sometimes reluctant to do so because they are worried about competing with students in those majors, Wu said; as a result, they often fulfill distributional requirements with introductory-level courses that are not engaging, he said. Wu added that in the preliminary results of the YCC’s survey, many students rated their science and math courses unsatisfactory when it comes to “intellectual satisfaction.”

“These students would be willing to take more challenging courses,” Wu said. “In doing so, they could possibly discover a passion for something that they didn’t take in high school.”

But allowing students to fulfill distributional requirements with classes taken Credit/D/Fail would reverse a policy approved by faculty in November 2004. Before that time, students could fulfill distributional requirements with non-letter grades, though professors could still choose not to offer courses with the Credit/D/Fail option.

Astronomy and physics professor Charles Bailyn, who voted in favor of the 2004 decision, said the rules prior to 2004 led to “catastrophic” classroom environments. He said students taking distributional requirements for non-letter grades used to calculate the exact point at which they would get credit and then stop showing up to the class or completing assignments.

“Seventy percent of students taking astrophysics were taking it Credit/Fail,” Bailyn said, recalling one semester’s roster. “The course wasn’t taken seriously.”

Science professors, he said, will likely not support a reversal of the policy.

Geology and geophysics professor David Evans, who teaches “Natural Resources and Sustainability” this semester, said working for a letter grade encourages students to do well in courses and to explore an unfamiliar subject more fully. Reversing the 2004 decision, he added, would detract from the fundamental purpose of distributional requirements

Wu said that both the YCC and individual residential college councils agree that the issue is worth pursuing. The current survey also includes questions about the caliber of introductory science courses, an initiative Wu said the YCC will pursue along with the possible Credit/D/Fail policy change.

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